Are We Going for Glitter, or For Gold?

We spend the best years of our lives chasing things that don't last.

If we follow the script our culture writes for us, we spend our young adulthood acquiring an education – not for the sake of being wise and well-rounded, but to gain the credentials necessary to land a good-paying job.  It doesn't seem to matter how much debt we take on to do this, as long as the resulting job brings enough money and prestige.

We spend the next few decades making as much money as possible, and spending even more.  If we're typical Americans, we have thousands and thousands of possessions stuffing a house three times the size of our grandparents'.  And no matter how much money we make, we have a huge home loan, one or two big auto loans, and thousands of dollars in credit card debt.

glittery lights

It's not enough.

We still have a long list of things we want to buy, places we want to go, and experiences we want to have.  No matter how much we shop or travel or do, we want more.

At some point we retire from the good-paying job.  Maybe we consider downsizing – moving to a smaller home with fewer possessions and less responsibility.  But we still continue to shop, travel, and try to top the experiences we've already had.  After all, we're conditioned to follow that script, and we're comparing ourselves to what everyone else has and does.

And what has it all been for?  Maybe we gave our children plenty of stuff, trips, and fun times.  Maybe we offered support while they spent their young adulthood preparing to chase the same goals we had in our time.

But what is it for?  What is our legacy?  Is our life simply measured by our possessions and a list of places we've been?  We've spent our lives earning and buying, mundane tasks that carry little meaning.  As we face the fact that we won't live forever, the concerns of our life look very small-minded.

Our lives glitter, but are they valuable, durable gold?

A precious legacy

My godfather, my father's younger brother, lived in Germany from the time he served in the army there in the very early 1960s and married a German lady, my aunt Renate.  Kenneth was a barber.  He lived for decades in a small apartment overlooking a Berlin city park.  I hadn't seen him for many years, but my children and grandchildren, whom he has never met, were important to him.

Last May he called me, very upset because he hadn't mailed a card for my youngest grandson's first birthday in April.  Uncle Kenneth was 88 at the time, and spent three days a week in dialysis.  He no longer drove, and couldn't walk 2 km to the post office, though for many years he walked 10 km a day, rain, shine, or snow.

golden sunset
This was a man who faithfully, for over 60 years, had never missed commemorating a birthday, holiday, graduation, wedding, whatever with cards, phone calls, and sometimes small gifts.  Not just for me, mind you, but for my husband, children, and grandchildren.

Kenneth passed away last August, and he won't be forgotten.  He took his role as my godfather seriously, and though I hadn't seen him in the flesh for almost 50 years, I honor and thank him for his presence in my life.

What is his legacy?  Faithfulness.  Love.  Interest, concern, and support.  My children felt like they knew him, and my grandchildren know about him too.

The real thing

Can we claim such a legacy?  If we died today, would we be remembered so fondly and for as long as anyone connected with us was alive?

How should I choose to live today so that people will remember me the way I'd like to be remembered?  What's going to last?  Do I merely glitter, or is there something valuable and enduring about my life?

What about yours?


  1. Wow! Karen, your words brought tears to my eyes. I can only hope to be as faithful a person as your Uncle Kenneth! This gets to the heart of who we are, not only in how others perceive us, but how we look at ourselves, which informs our actions, of course.


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